HIDING BEHIND THE S.H.I.E.L.D.

ABC Playing it safe with their new Marvel Comics’ branded drama.

Though not by much, the cast is in point of fact much more colourful than the image would suggest.

Though not by much, the cast is in point of fact much more colourful than the image would suggest.

Marvel’s movie machine has been in full swing over the past few summers, and few shows have generated as much buzz as Avengers bi-product Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Produced by geek hero and veteran TV showrunner Joss Whedon, the show benefits from having some of the star power behind the Avengers movie. Part super-hero action series and part government agency procedural, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks to be attempting to attract a broad audience while staying true to the subject material. The result of which is a surprisingly safe show somewhere in between sci-fi action romp and spy agency procedural.

Leading the ensemble cast is Clark Gregg, reprising his role as Agent Coulson. Gregg has been a supporting player in almost all of the recent Marvel comics’ movies and provides the star power to the project. Beyond that there aren’t many names of note, with the exception of a brief cameo by Cobie Smulders returning to her role of Agent Maria Hill from The Avengers and some Whedon alumni from past shows (J. August Richards and Ron Glass) the core cast is mostly comprised of untested talent. Despite this, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t turn into the Coulson show, and the supporting cast does a decent job of holding up their end while Gregg shines in a role he has come to own inside and out.

The plot of the pilot is not the most original setup, it opens with a pretty rote superhero origin setup, super powered man saves woman from a burning building, catching the attention he’d rather not get the attention of. This cues Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team to seek him out and find out what’s at the centre of his super-powery goodness. In their search the team abducts Skye, a vocal ‘hacktivist’ part of a group of anarchists known as the rising tide. Her capture and recruitment become the secondary story of the episode which ties itself nicely into the main story of tracking down the conflicted super human who is battling with the morality of his situation and cannot decide whether to abuse his power or to try to be a good man. Ultimately, the story is passable but not incredibly strong, it is clearly more about setting up the assembly of the team and the events of the plot seem to have little consequence.

When it comes right down to it, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a solid pilot with a lot to like about it. The production is clearly impressive, with high quality special effects both on the practical and the post production side of things, the camera work looks slick and clean and the acting is strong all around. The writing leave something to be desired but there is still charm in the dialogue. It looks very promising that Marvel and ABC will have a hit on their hands with this show, though it may not be the Whedon product die-hard fans have come to expect.

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Return for a Prequel

Hello all,

It’s been a long, long hiatus but I’ve decided to drag this blog out of retirement due to overwhelming demand (sort of) for my incisive opinions and poignant critical thought. Okay honestly a friend wanted to know what I thought of a movie…either way here we go!

On the agenda for today, Prometheus! The Ridley Scott helmed pseudo-prequel to one of science fictions most beloved franchises Alien. Shrouded in mystery and viral videos leading up to the opening Prometheus really captured my interest long before knowing anything about it. Make no mistake though, this movie is firmly rooted in the same universe, though it’s perhaps debatable as to whether or not it’s directly connected to Alien specifically.

Image

The most important thing I can say about this movie is that it is absolutely not a re-hash of Alien. Gone is the grimy claustrophobic atmosphere of the Nostromo, filled with countless dimly lit corridors lined with bundled cords (pretty sure it wasn’t up to code) and instead is the sleek and stylish Prometheus, which acts as much less of a character that shapes the movie than the first film’s iconic towing ship.

The basic plot of the film is in the near future archaeologists discover a link between ancient cave paintings all over the world that lead them to a planetary system out in space somewhere. They theorize that these paintings suggest this is the home of a space travelling civilization that aided or possibly even created humanitiy. A team of scientists depart in search of the home world of these Protheans creator aliens aboard an expeditionary vessel (prometheus). Pretty much at this point I need to stop describing to avoid spoilers but essentially shit gets real.

The movie is slick and well paced, something that was easily my biggest concern given it was a Ridley Scott film. In the past Scott has been responsible for some of the most enjoyable movies I have ever watched however his recent form has been really poor, and I pretty much gave up after the three and a half hour directors cut of American Gangster. Though the runtime on this movie isn’t by any means brisk (126 mins) it never feels like it’s stalling out, it reveals information to the audience at a steady pace keeping the viewer engaged throughout. 

If I was going to talk about an issue I had with it, it would probably be with the script, which was competent but far from stellar. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (Creator of the hit show Lost) the story does a great job of creating a world that causes the viewer to ask a lot of questions, however it doesn’t answer too many of them. That can be a polarizing thing in itself, while some appreciate the mystery, personally I am the type of person that wants to have a good understanding of how things connect to one another. The part of the writing I found most frustrating though was in some of the character writing. There are points where characters act completely irrationally and seemingly out of character for no good reason at all. The chief instance I will refer to only as ‘the curious biologist’ which had me baffled as to why that character would behave as he did. There is also a lot of chaos that gets introduced for seemingly no good reason, and while the story ends with a reasonably well wrapped up resolution, I couldn’t help but feel most of what took place didn’t have any real reason to as far as the audience was concerned.

Ultimately though, I have to say the film was a very good experience. I was impressed by the stellar cast, and floored by the stimulating visuals. I can honestly say it’s one of the best science fiction movies I have seen in recent years, and while the story had it’s flaws I am already anticipating a directors cut blu ray with extended footage and commentary to puzzle out all the intricacies the movie laid out. It is a smart, tense, beautiful movie. Though still early in the summer, of all the blockbusters that have buzz surrounding them, this might be the most intriguing of them all. 

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Hiatus

Though I’m sure not many of you have noticed but I have been on a little bit of a hiatus for the past few months.

I have decided to re-release the Blog in a way that is more focussed and will come back with a fresh coat of paint and a whole new general feel.

For any of you wondering, I will be focusing the blog exclusively on video game related materials and will be looking to add posts from other writers to add some extra material and some varied writing styles into the mix. anyone interested can email me at theblunderblogs@gmail.com

Keep checking in folks, I hope to have the new improved blunderblogs hot off the wordpresses and on your screen shortly.

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Thoughts on Madden 11

To summarize the nature of this post I’m going to start off with a little football metaphor here:

Madden takes the snap, he drops back in the pocket…looks for his man. HE THROWS DEEP…TOUCHDOWN! But wait! There’s a flag on the field, and the play will come all the way back…

For all you reading this that aren’t football fans I’ll sum it up for you, the game is excellent in a lot of ways, almost a complete success…but then something happened and it just ruined everything for me.

So to set the scene, I got the game a couple days ago, eager to enjoy the full version after several weeks of playing the demo over and over again. So in it comes and after feverishly ripping off the plastic and putting the disc into my PS3, when I am prompted immediately to input my redemption code entitled my ‘online pass’ which enables online game modes such as online franchise and get this…head to head.

So I was going to review this game but as soon as I saw this I thought WTF? apparently, one of the perks of buying a shiny new copy of madden 11…is the ability to play online? Yes, and in fact this was not the first game to do so. As Joystiq reported a few months back, EA sports has instituted the online pass as a branch of the company’s ‘Project Ten Dollars’. Essentially, in a bid to reduce the amount of used game sales, EA seeks to draw in consumers to buy new copies as opposed to used by offering additional downloadable content. While on paper that sounds fine, in practice this essentially means gimping the game upon resale. Online play has already been established as a fundamental element of next generation sports games, to now deem that content as bonus material is an obvious cash grab and only serves to hurt the consumer.

First, let’s examine the logic behind this move. By not having online play in the used copy out of the box the gamer will in theory decide it is better to buy a new copy due to a perceived better value. However, that’s kind of depending on two things, one that the cost of the used copy combined with the cost of buying an online pass is the same or more than the new copy, and two that the player cares enough about this gameplay to want to shell out the extra money. Considering that, is it really such a safe bet that this online pass will really get people buying new copies? or for that matter hanging on to them?

After some thought, I don’t really think so. Here’s why, for starters the price of used games will always reflect a level of savings that’s relative to the original product. Therefore, if new copies go for 69.99, used copies will be priced accordingly to compensate for the need for the online pass meaning used games will most likely be priced at 59.99 or even 54.99. As well, a yearly franchise like Madden or Tiger Woods does not hold lasting appeal for gamers to hang on to, I mean why the hell would you hang on to Madden 11 if you plan on buying Madden 12 the following year? The point here is, if someone doesn’t play their game, they will trade it in regardless of if the value is reduced. Hell, sports games lose their value faster than any other type of game already due to their yearly nature, so I ask you WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO MAKE THAT WORSE EA!?

In the end the only person getting screwed here is the consumer, used copies will still be sold in stores, the only difference will be that they’ll sell for cheaper and customers who bought their shiny new copies will get even less for them when they eventually trade them in. Though it’s fair that EA would want to combat the rampant used game sales which give them absolutely zero profit and instead line the pockets of retailers like GameStop who are the largest distributors of used games in North America.

cheers to Marcel Hoang for the pic

I’m not sure how exactly publishers should get gamers to hang on to their games, though in fairness who is to say that they have to? Consumers don’t have bottomless pockets, and if the cost of business is having thousands of gamers enjoy your game second-hand well then suck it up you soulless bloodsuckers!

To everyone reading this my question to you is, what do you think game publishers and developers should do to reduce used game sales/cut down on piracy/liberate cash from gamers wallets?

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Bloggerfan

This is not a review, I cannot stress this enough…

This is instead, a recounting of my thoughts and feelings following my viewing of Edgar Wright’s newest film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Why is this not a review then? well to be perfectly frank, because I am entirely too biased to review this movie.

First off, I love Scott Pilgrim, as you may know if you read this post I wrote a while back. Secondly, I love Edgar Wright, both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were fantastic movies in my eyes. Thirdly, there is hardly an actor in the film I didn’t already like before seeing the movie, from Michael Cera right down to Jason Schwartzman…so yeah, you can see why I wouldn’t be exactly a reliable review to go on.

However I will go on to write about how and why I loved this movie, because frankly it’s my damn blog and what better things have I got to do on a Sunday morning?

So, the movie. Set in the heart of downtown Toronto Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the story of a slacker in his mid twenties who has fallen in love with quite literally the girl of his dreams, and in order to win her heart he must first defeat her 7 evil exes. you still with me?

So the movie is based on a series of comics written and illustrated by Torontonian Bryan Lee O’Malley. The comics themselves were unique and original for their blend of video game themes, hipster scene setting, and manga inspired art. The story is covered over 6 volumes and over the course of the story the characters grow and mature, leading to what I felt to be one of the most satisfying endings in a series of graphic novels.

As for the movie, Wright does a fantastic job of staying true to the style of the comic, blending comic book sound effects cleverly with stylized video game references and sounds (like some classic 8-bit Zelda) as well as a soundtrack filled with the lo-fi garage and indie sounds which O’Malley was inspired by when writing the books themselves. The result is a fast paced off-beat adventure that plays out as a sort of romantic action comedy…thing. Though some elements of the comics are omitted and the chronology happens a little different from the graphic novels, the movie resounds as one of the purest adaptations of a comic into a film in my eyes if for nothing else for holding true to the feel of the comic. Wright does a fantastic job of keeping the story larger than life while keeping the characters very grounded, as in the comics, the story is about taking a relatively mundane love story and turning it into something exciting and surreal by portraying it through a sort of generational mind’s eye. Ultimately, the movie captures this feeling every bit as well as the comics did.

If I were to complain about something, it would be that the movie tries to cram a little too much into too short a timeframe. The end comes off feeling a bit rushed as they race to find a conclusion within the 112 minutes they had to pull 6 years of storytelling off. It’s still good, but it’s frenetic and doesn’t linger on any particular thought too long. I can’t say this is a film for everyone, this is the sort of movie you have to go in with a pretty open mind, if you’re coming in a skeptic, you’re probably going to stay skeptical. It’s the kind of movie that will either sweep you off your feet, or leave you completely nonplussed, wondering what the hell just happened. If you’re the kind of person who waits for the Oscar nominations to come out before deciding what they’re going to rent (and you know who you are!) then you almost certainly will not like this movie. Is is serious? no. Is it gripping? no. Will it entertain you? quite possibly.

While I’m on my tangent I’ll do a quick little mention of all things Scott Pilgrim that have been released recently.

First, Scott Pilgrim volume 6 came out last month and as I have said it was excellent, the conclusion to the series proves to be in my mind O’Malley’s finest effort. The characters have developed extremely well and the finale is one of truly epic proportions.

Next the game, Along with the movie was a downloadable release on the PSN and Xbox Live for Scott Pilgrim vs The World the game. The game is a true homage to the old school beat-em up. With an all 8-bit art style the game looks like something you would have played on a Nintendo and has all the staples of the genre. The game supports up to 4 players of local co-op and sports an level up system which provides a surprising amount of depth for such a seemingly simplistic game. Dabblers be forewarned though, the game is hard as hell, and without co-op it can be absolutely infuriating as you spend a good 20 minutes hazarding a level, only to die and start at the beginning all over again. However all in all its a great experience and a true throwback that still manages to keep it fresh. This screenshot should say it all:

I know, cool right?

and lastly the soundtrack, yeah it’s awesome…get it…and all that.

as usual I’ve droned on entirely too long…I’ll shut up now.

Update: you can get a little tidbit of Scott Pilgrim here by checking out Scott Pilgrim vs The Animation


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The Kings of Denmark

So admittedly, I really haven’t written in a good while. Furthermore, I haven’t written on music in a really good while. Nonetheless here I am, returned from the proverbial grave to enlighten you magnificent handful of readers who choose to edify my ego by reading. This entries focus goes squarely on one album I have been meaning to write about for some time. Actually, to be fair I wanted to write primarily about the band but since they have recently released an album I’ll make that my excuse. It’s hard to really claim any sort of special knowledge of the band, nor can I claim to have known of them before they were huge. However, the funny thing is, this ultra famous band is one that chances are you have never heard of, nor have you ever heard any of their singles. That band is Kashmir.

just a casual impromptu picture of the members of Kashmir

Now the reason you will have never heard of Kashmir, despite their receiving numerous critical accolades and awards is because they are a Danish band, and I guess Danes don’t seem to make it big here in North America. Still though, all their songs are in English and their style is so foreign that it would jar you to hear their music. In fact, many have likened their sound to Coldplay and Radiohead, which is probably fair though I think they stand a bit apart from those two bands. The bottom line is that this band is really interesting and dynamic and if you ask me it’s crazy that more people aren’t aware of them. If you want band’s full store you can check it out here. For now, let’s move on to their newest album, Trespassers, which was released this past February.

Trespassers is actually the band’s sixth full length release, so like I was saying this isn’t a group that came out of nowhere, and is the bands first album in 5 years since they released No Balance Palace in 2005. To my mind, it is probably the most balanced and consistent album of their to date, with each song managing to keep my attention while a few standouts really managed to grab me. Manta Ray and Still Boy stood out to me as the most powerful tracks on the album, with Pallas Athena probably being the weakest effort made. The sound is generally a sort of melodic rock sound, with a sort of taciturn mood for the most part. While this could aptly describe every album of theirs to date, what I felt really made this one stand out was a certain undercurrent of optimism which seemed to pervade pretty well every track on the album. I’m no musician so to comment on the instrumental competence or production qualities would be pointless, though I will say that I think Kasper Eistrup’s vocals are some of the most moving you are likely to hear on any album, which ring with a sort of sincerity and vulnerability which you so rarely seem to find. All in all the album sounds very good, and very polished.

I can’t talk about this album without at least mentioning the album’s music video for the single Still Boy. My first experience with Kashmir was actually through a music video, where I happened to stumble upon the video for Rocket Brothers. The band seems to have a tendency to make videos that have a linear narrative and some sort of morality or theme to them. There aren’t any cuts to the band rocking out or anything like that, more just a short movie with the track acting as the score to the story. for Still Boy, the video depicts a crazy homeless man trying desperately to bring to life a doll he has built in his sort of cardboard workshop. The video is powerful, and really compliments the strength of the song, but rather than describe it it’s probably best I just show you:

Thanks to Kashmir for making the video available on YouTube through their band’s channel.

I’m not really sure what more I can really say, the album is excellent and if you haven’t heard it you really should. It’s hard to really recommend this band to any one type of music listener, they have that sort of general palatability which I typically loathe. However I have to admit there is a sort of distinct character to these guys which is very charming and they really do have a sound that sets them apart.

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Returning to Rapture

Howdy folks, its been a while and for that I am deeply sorry but at last I return with more criticisms on the hard work of others that I enjoyed at my leisure. Today’s focus being chiefly on the sequel to the 2007 PC game of the year* Bioshock, Bioshock 2 (clever title, no?)

Because I just recently played Bioshock I’ll give you the cliffs notes to provide some context. You play as a fella named Jack who has just survived a plane crash in the middle of the ocean and winds up at the entrance of Rapture, an underwater city founded by a man named Andrew Ryan. As soon as you get there all hell has been thoroughly let loose as you find the city in ruins populated entirely by a bunch of crazies called splicers. You are guided through by a guy named Atlas, who communicates with you via headset through the city with the promise of getting you out. As you progress the plot get a lot more complicated but for the sake of the review that’s all you need to know. Basically its scary, its underwater, and there’s a lot of murky history going on. The core mechanics of the game are shooting and use of special powers called plasmids. The use of plasmids is contingent upon 2 things, the use of Eve (basically your token mana or magic juice) and Adam, which are upgrade points to get new plasmids or upgrade existing ones. The key to getting Adam is by collecting it off little sisters, creepy little denizens of rapture which are young girls who frankly look…off. While relatively harmless themselves they are always guarded by giant certified bad-asses called big daddies. The game is part survival horror and part action shooter, all mixed in with upgrade systems along the lines of RPG’s to make it a really cool genre bending game.

Now on to numero dos, which takes that very sleek and complete package and attempts to add to an already stellar experience.

The story is easily the biggest hurdle to overcome in this one, for any who have played the first this is apparent, since the first wraps up very well with little to absolutely no need for a sequel at all. However here we are and surely they had to figure out some way to drag you back to rapture. so here it is; you roam through rapture this time around as a big daddy (yeah, one of those almighty bad-asses as previously mentioned). However you being a prototype big daddy you are both blessed and cursed with some distinct differences. first, you can’t go waylaying enemies left and right, you are about as strong as the previous game’s character Jack and feature the same health system. conversely, you also have the previous game’s ability of all the same weapons (plus some crazy new ones like the big daddy drill arm) and plasmid systems. The objective of you, the prototype big daddy, is to find the little sister you are separated with in the opening sequence of the game. This time around the focus is very squarely on the relationship between the big daddies and little sisters, with the antagonist being the mother of your respective little sister Dr. Sofia Lamb. Taking place a few short years after the events of the first Bioshock the city of rapture is in ruins with Dr. Lamb looking to rebuild it in her own utopian ideal. As you progress through the game you unravel the history of Sofia Lamb and her opposition of Andrew Ryan back in the glory years of Rapture through audio diaries scattered throughout the game (same as the first one). What is a bit tricky here is that they introduce a pretty large-scale event that occurred in the history of Rapture which isn’t so much as alluded to in the first game, which makes it at times difficult to suspend disbelief. However this quibble aside the story is well told and the characters are engaging, with the return of Dr. Tenenbaum from the first game, and your primary ally being a southern gent named Augustus Sinclair, who rivals the first game’s Atlas in quality.

With the story being good it’s hard to say this game really lives up to the first on that alone, Bioshock was renowned for its incredible storytelling so being good doesn’t quite measure up. However gameplay is one element in which Bioshock 2 really does it’s predecessor proud. with the first game being a bit clunky the shooting mechanic this time around is much more responsive, as well, the dual wielding capabilities of plasmid/weapon combinations makes possible what the first game promised but could not quite deliver. This time around plasmids and firearms can be used seamlessly, which in turn creates a much richer and diversified combat system. Players can be entertained for hours just by tooling around with various weapon and plasmid combinations to discover new ways to dispatch enemies. As well, with the games use of a research video camera, the player is rewarded for creative weapons use by awarding more research points for using different weapons and plasmids, which in turn unlocks new damage modifiers and status affecting tonics. Other innovations have been made throughout to make the experience more streamlined as well, with a new hack tool which replaces the former puzzle based hacking mini-game, this time around hacking is done using a timing based bar and needle in which you stop the needle in the green area (think old school field goal kicking controls). The new hacking is a huge improvement, being that while the puzzles in bioshock were fun for the first 10 or 20, by the end of the game you’re solving virtually the same puzzles 100+ times. also, the new hack tool features a hack dart which can be fired, allowing for remote hacks of security devices which prove both strategic and less frustrating. and lastly one of the biggest changes in the game’s gameplay is in the harvesting of Adam. While in the first it was relatively straightforward (you kill big daddy then choose to either harvest or rescue the little sister) this time the choice is a lot more complex. Being a big daddy you now have the ability to either harvest or adopt a little sister after her big daddy has been dispatched. Adopting the little sister means significantly more adam but at significantly higher risk. To harvest Adam you must take your little sister to a specified corpse and defend her as a barrage of splicers attacks. After these salvo’s are over and the little sister has harvested all the Adam she can you take her to the nearest vent where you can decide to either harvest or rescue her. Like in the first, harvesting means more Adam right away, where rescuing means some rewards down the road. I am not sure which is more beneficial overall but I get the sense that harvesting is the easy route. Apart from the splicer raids, the other reason not to hang on to the little sister is the arrival of a Big Sister which are even more intense and frightening than the big daddys of the first. if you choose to go the route of harvesting you will randomly have to encounter the big sisters which can prove difficult even with your health and inventory in good order. This gameplay element is easily the most interesting and rewarding of the whole game, with the excitement of challenge of fighting big sisters the game keeps you on your toes. Conversely the relationship you form with the little sisters as you protect them while they suck the life force out of corpses is bizarrely endearing.

The games presentation is once again amongst its many long suits with its sharp graphics serving really as the underpinnings for the spectacular art design which makes this game so visually pleasing. With the distinctive art deco meets steampunk design the world of Rapture is easily one of the most interesting settings of a video game to date. The unique case of characters is equally as well acted as the first game, with honourable mention going to the character of Augustus Sinclair who does an excellent job of making you question his motivations throughout the game. The game’s sound is equally impressive, with its standout being the creepy dialogue you can often overhear between the splicers before they’ve detected you. The ambient noise is one of the elements that really gives the game it’s character.

All in all the game is a unquestionably enjoyable experience, and I would say if you enjoyed the first one the second is one you should definitely tackle. I should place an asterisk on this review given that I really didn’t play the multiplayer at all so I can’t rightly say whether or not its worthwhile or not. However, the quality of the single player alone is enough to justify playing this game, and certainly owning it if you’re a hardcore fan.

*Game of the year as according to IGN http://bestof.ign.com/2007/pc/22.html

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